Parks for All Strives to Create More Inclusive
Communities for All Children
Since you’re reading a magazine called STRIVE, you have a bit of an entrepreneurial, innovative spirit. You are an idea person and a leader. You strive to bring value to the world, a voice to the table and action to that voice. You are a pioneer. Whether you are an Alaskan or reside elsewhere, you share our pioneering gene, a “North to the Future” attitude and an adventurous mind.
As Alaskans, our desire to live in the world’s biggest and most scenic playground leads us to create organizations with this same pioneering, resilient character. Alaskans also quickly grow impatient if we have to wait for others to do for us what we think is right and good for our state. In business and in play, we strike out into the wild, forge a path, conquer the next big peak, create change and take action.
Innovation here in Alaska is not only limited to technology and business. Social innovation is part of our community fabric, and we take care of our own. According to a report by University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research and The Foraker Group, Alaska has more than 7,000 nonprofits. This sector is critical to our state, and organizations such as the Rasmuson Foundation are looked to as state leaders. This 60-year-old foundation was created by a family of banking-industry entrepreneurs and invests millions of dollars each year into causes and projects intended to build our communities for the future.
Alaskans like these are known as social entrepreneurs, and there is a glacier-sized need for more like them in every place (hint, hint).
Social entrepreneurship is not a new idea. Simply defined, a social entrepreneur is someone who identifies a social problem, injustice or opportunity to improve a community’s outcomes through social change, and employs their resources to create a better world.
It is with this same spirit that Parks for All was created.
In 2007, my daughter Anna was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that left her paralyzed below the waist. Using a walker, wheelchair or canes to get around, Anna has learned to thrive in her environment. But one day, she came home from summer camp with a story that changed our lives. She gloomily recounted that her teachers made her sit on the sidelines while her friends played on the playground. Thinking she had gotten into trouble and was being punished, I asked why. She said, “They said I couldn’t play because I was in a wheelchair.”
The Alaska pioneer and mother bear in me never wanted my child or anyone else’s child to hear these words again. Furthermore, I knew if I wanted to change Anna’s experience, I would have to act. In 2009, I joined with a group of fellow mom-trepreneurs who also had children with special needs and we formed Parks for All, so ALL Alaskans of all abilities and ages would have places to play, develop, build relationships and become the leaders of tomorrow.
For Parks for All, there have been five key elements to achieving our mission through social entrepreneurship:
1. A prompt. Humans don’t innovate unless prompted. Biologically, we adapt when nature demands it. Most often that prompt comes in the form of a constant, nagging problem, or an event or injustice so dramatic that we are forced to change our perspectives on the world and adapt accordingly. I never thought about inclusivity or access until I HAD TO, until my daughter’s birth defect forced me to instantly change my viewpoint, my interaction with the world and my actions. I had to think about access every day. I saw this new challenge as an opportunity rather than a burden and used my new viewpoint to create more play for more people. My daughter was my prompt. What will yours be?
2. Initiative. When I left my last job, a co-worker gave me a silver cuff that says, “Decide your own Destiny.” I wear it each time we cut the ribbon on a new inclusive playground and live by its mantra daily. I often hear writers and speakers tell their audiences they need passion to change the world. But passion without an urgent prompt and some action behind it is simply a strong feeling. Entrepreneurs of any kind only succeed when their passion becomes a decision coupled with an action. (We don’t wait politely for permission very well either.)
3. Positivity. Positivity is more than believing in yourself (although Stuart Smalley-style pep talks sometimes help!). Truly positive people and successful entrepreneurs turn every challenge and every decision point into an opportunity to further their vision. Parks for All started because of three children with medical challenges. Today, those challenges are a platform for creating inclusive communities for all children.
4. Connection. As entrepreneurs, business or social, most of us start with very little. At the time, we were a grassroots group of three mothers with toddlers and our resources were zero. Parks for All only exists, even now, by creatively connecting the dots between people and their passions and putting the resources of each connection to work for the greater good. Since inception, this group has joined with the Municipality of Anchorage Parks & Recreation, Anchorage Park Foundation, the Alaska State Legislature, numerous local and national business partners and non-profits, media outlets, individual supporters, local governments and Anchorage voters to support inclusive play and development. Find this growing list of Parks for All champions at www.facebook.com/parksforall/about.
5. Tenacity. Seth Godin writes, “Tenacity is not the same as persistence. Persistence is doing something again and again until it works. It sounds like ‘pestering’ for a reason. Tenacity is using new data to make new decisions to find new pathways to find new ways to achieve a goal when the old ways didn’t work. Telemarketers are persistent. Nike is tenacious.”
In business or in your community, if you want to see something new, you have to commit to your cause, be innovative and adaptive and see it through to the end. In 2013, there was a “ribbon cutting” at the Cuddy Family Midtown Park’s “Play for All” playground. This was Anchorage’s first fully inclusive Boundless Playground. Senator Lisa Murkowski addressed the crowd of supporters, referring to Parks for All’s founders as “tenacious moms.” Three years later, and after almost seven years of championing inclusive play, I take pride in that label. It has led us to the funding and construction of 12 inclusive playgrounds, national speaking engagements and partnerships, and a strategic plan for “inclusive play,” a project Anchorage is pioneering ahead of cities nationwide.
Parks for All’s goal is to continue growing its influence locally and globally, working with sister organizations and empowering other organizations to change the playscape. By partnering to bring inclusive play to community facilities, private developments and learning environments, Parks for All strives to create a more inclusive world for children of all abilities.
Bill Drayton, of Ashoka, an organization he founded in 1978 to support social entrepreneurs, says, “Entrepreneurs have in their heads the vision of how society will be different when their idea is at work, and they can’t stop until that idea is not only at work in one place, but is at work across the whole society…entrepreneurs are not happy with the status quo…”
This article first appeared in the January 2017 issue of STRIVE magazine.
Since inception, this group has joined with the Municipality of Anchorage Parks & Recreation, Anchorage Park Foundation, the Alaska State Legislature, numerous local and national business partners and non-profits, media outlets, individual supporters, local governments and Anchorage voters to support inclusive play and development. Find this growing list of Parks for All champions at www.facebook.com/parksforall/about.
Join the movement:
- Follow and Share Parks for All on Facebook.
- Volunteer to bring play to more people of all ages and all abilities globally.
- Email Leah at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up or get your own project started in your community.
About the Author
Leah Boltz co-founded Parks for All, a grassroots initiative bringing inclusive play to all Alaskans of all ages and abilities through community engagement, partnering, fundraising and design. Leah is Anchorage Rotary Vice President and an AEDC Live.Work.Play. volunteer, and her business background is in integrated communications and business development. On Leah’s bookshelf: Start with Why by Simon Sinek, Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders, and Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.